Like many well-intentioned ideas from the ’70s—leisure suits, the Mustang II, the eight-track tape—a 1972 project to dump 2 million tires off the coast of Florida has gone horribly wrong. What was supposed to be an artificial reef brimming with life has instead become an undulating 36-acre dead zone on the sea floor.
“They thought it would be a good fish habitat,” William Nuckols, project coordinator for the public-private partnership Coastal America, told The Miami Herald. “It turned out to be a bad idea. It’s a coastal coral destruction machine.”
The reef’s designers overlooked the small matter of securely fastening the tires together so they would not bulldoze the seabed when they moved with the tide. Metal fasteners were originally used on the tires, but they were quickly rusted away by the seawater. Who knew?
The original project was funded by the Broward County government and endorsed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Now the county has called in the U.S. Navy to aid the cleanup. (One idea has Navy divers essentially treating the tire pickup job as a massive salvage training operation.) It will take an estimated $5 million and three years to pick up the tires, haul them back to dry land, and recycle them or bury them in landfills.
The landfill option is the solution rejected in 1972 as environmentally irresponsible.